Sep 1, 2009

The 'Late', The Great, and The Way Inbetween

Elizabeth Hanson's "The Informationa Revolution and World Politics" does focus more on actual technological advancements. But the sheer impact and uneveness of this impact, testify all the more to how inextricably all the neat categories we use in school: Communications, Economics, Politics, Culture and so forth, are linked.
The first thing I noted was the almost sidenote of the affect of the printing press on language in Europe. The very art of writing has always had an impact on writing, requiring more codification and standardization. But there can also be a significant difference: for instance, 'Chinese' exists as a single written language, yet there are different dialects, such as Mandarin or Cantonese, which can be quite unintelligable to one another. (This is a bit of a moot point as Chinese is a pictorial/ideographic language, rather than syllabic as I'm referencing in Europe.)
The printing press contributed to the codification and solidifying of specific languages. Hanson references "hundreds of vernacular languages" (p. 15), but going back to my Chinese example, these were most likely regional differences and the effects of syncristic contact between different language groups. Thus the press, needing a standardization in order to publish consistently, caused regional dialects became more uniform, leading to a greater identity identification among language groups, which helped build a case for nationalism. This is fascinating to me as so many countries around the world struggle with creating national identities similar to those that seem 'native' to Europe, especially those without set borders. This ripple effect from the printing press is an example of how nationalism grew to its more current form organically. (Which poses the interesting question, is common language really a make-or-break factor in nation-building?)
Second, it seems that the unpredicted side-effects of such new technology interferes with the next, at least at first - and proving that technology hasn't exactly just been 'speeding up' invariably in the last century. Telegraphs had to cross national borders (linguistic borders fostered by the printing press) and therefore countries had to set up arrangements for interconnection. This happens within 20 years of the public debut of telegraphy (though Thussu does remark that different forms of telegraphy appeared earlier). An International Union is formed by 1865, rules of usage are agreed on and monitoring is allowed. Telegraphy quickly goes on to inform business, politics and then even the public.
Now, about 30 years after the telegraph, comes the telephone. Barring technological issues, the telephone becomes relegated to the bottom place on the totem-pole. Even when improved, it lags in connecting Europe. The national borders, crossed by telegraphs, prove imperable to telephones. Countries resist interconnection, put to the way side the connections (diplomatically) that telegraphs have formed and maintain rivalry. The telegraph was to get rid of these tensions - it increased them, especially as the British had the monopoly. And this doesn't change until the 1970s!!! It's simply incredible when compared to the sudden capitalization of the cell phone.

1 comment:

  1. I want to address your question about common language being a make-or-break factor in nation building. I think that posing it in such stark terms is too apocalyptic. However, the answer may lie in the fact that common language can more strongly unify a nation. Also, a split within a country that is so obvious as difference in language can often be exploited by those who would benefit from a fractured country or even from the dissolution of a country. For example, Belgium is a country split between Flemish- and French-speakers. The Flemish part of the country is seen as being economically dominant over the French part, often characterized as taking advantage of the French section of the country. These feelings have led to the recent struggles within Belgium of forming a viable government. One can see that there would be certain beneficiaries if the two areas were to split, such as Flemish business owners who would no longer have to support the less economically successful French area with more substantial social welfare programs. (This is a very cursory overview of the different forces at play in Belgium)